With its imperial perspective, the United States is once again directing the fortune of Haiti–a small Caribbean nation with some eight million inhabitants that first witnessed military interference by its powerful northern neighbor in 1915, which now, as in the past, is assuming the right to trample on this nation’s sovereignty.
For Washington–as demonstrated by its arrogance–the Haitian people are second-class citizens, unable to find solutions to their many serious and diverse problems; problems that are precisely the result of the support afforded by wealthy countries to a series of corrupt and dictatorial governments.
In the name of supposed democracy, last February 29 the imperialist power sent in its marines to deliver the coup de grace to the constitutional government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, after forcing him to resign and board a plane for an unknown destination, in what has been described by many as a “modern” coup d’etat and by others as a common practice of the most powerful.
In 1915, the United States bombed Haiti after a series of popular uprisings and invaded the western part of the island that this nation shares with the Dominican Republic. That occupation lasted 20 years.
Later, in 1994, 20,000 U.S. soldiers returned to the impoverished Republic to reinstall Aristide (overthrown in a traditional military coup), following a secret deal that the White House had agreed with General Raoul Cedras.
The second occupation cost U.S. taxpayers one billion dollars. For Haiti, whose annual budget is $300 million, that sum could have resolved or alleviated its extreme poverty or the pressure of the nation’s foreign debt. The wave of immigrants that attempt to land on U.S. shores every year–and that is one of the White House motives for controlling this Caribbean nation–should have disappeared or at least diminished.
And now comes the third military intervention of the last 100 years, precisely when Haiti is commemorating the bicentenary of its constitution as the first independent republic in the region.
THE U.S. DID NOT CONSULT CARICOM
Shortly before pressure from U.S. and French diplomats to resign the president had announced that he would continue to seek the road of dialogue with the opposition, a position that was unattractive to Washington officials, interested in installing a traditional puppet government in Haiti.
Analysts believe that the arrival of approximately 1,000 U.S. soldiers in Haiti just a few hours after the leader’s departure constitutes a threat for other nations in the Caribbean. Once again, the White House made its decision without taking into account the views of regional organizations such as the CARICOM, which was seeking a negotiated solution to the crisis and is now demanding an investigation into the circumstances of the former priest’s resignation.
However, faced with CARICOM’s demands, on March 5 the Bush administration stated that there was nothing to investigate or discuss. Richard Boucher, state department spokesman, responded to journalists’ questions by saying that, for him, the function of the United States was clear and that there was definitely no need for an investigation. That statement came a few days after the U.S. Congress asked for an explanation on the administration’s actions in Haiti and thus the arrogant U.S. position could turn into another headache for Bush, right at a time when he is looking toward reelection.
The political media believes that Aristide was abandoned after he had requested help from the international organizations to resolve this conflict, the climax of which came when hundreds of former soldiers and coup factions, organized into armed gangs, went on a rampage of terror, leaving behind them at least 100 people dead in less than one month of confrontations.
When the crisis began on February 5, the Haitian government headed by the Lavalas Family Party came under extreme pressure from opposition supporters calling for a general election in the wake of alleged cases of fraud during recent parliamentary assemblies, and also charging the president with corruption. Aristide agreed to talks in order to find a way to resolve the situation.
But the agreement was paralyzed due to the revolt by former military personnel under the command of Guy Phillipe, the former police chief who had already tried to overthrow Aristide in 2001, who had returned from exile in the neighboring Dominican Republic in order to speed up the head of state’s departure.
Nevertheless, having paved the way for the United States, four days after his entry into Port-au-Prince, Phillipe–self-proclaimed leader of the armed forces–was sidelined from the national political game via a Washington decision.
A State Department communique on March 4, cited by a diplomatic source, indicated that the rebels are not being considered for the new government. It stated that an orderly and constitutional process was underway to assure the country’s political transition and that Washington was in favor of holding talks with the Haitian opposition, but not with the rebels, armed gangs, criminals, former members of the army or death squads.
Members of Phillipe’s armed gang, the National Reconstruction and Liberation Resistance Front, began to leave the capital after a heavily-protected U.S. colonel arrived at the former army headquarters occupied by the band the previous Monday and ejected them.
PHILLIPE LEFT OUT OF THE GAME
According to witnesses, the colonel told the former police chief to forget his plans to join the new government or head the armed forces, a situation that Phillipe was not expecting and one that, despite his later statement, was difficult for him to accept.
The former Haitian military leader–who declared that he was prepared to proclaim himself the country’s new president–reiterated to the press his disposition to lay down arms and withdraw with his men to the north, perhaps to Cap-Haitien. He affirmed that he would keep to his word, but that his gangs would not disarm “and that’s that”, which would lead one to suppose that being left without a finger in the pie was not in his game plan.
Despite the heavy presence of troops from the United States, Canada and Chile–plus those that are to join them from seven other countries–occupying Port-au-Prince, disorder and chaos still reign in this city, where there is only one hospital. The facility is being managed by Cuban doctors who are continuing to give support and solidarity to the Haitian people having freely decided not to abandon the suffering population to its fate.
Haiti remains virtually without government . Boniface Alexandre, the interim president, has been virtually hidden away in the residence of a U.S. diplomat since he assumed the post on February 29, and has only made one decision to date: appointing Leonce Charles–considered by Washington a trustworthy individual–as head of the police force, the only legitimate armed force in the country.
Likewise, the return of Mario Andresol–a former official exiled in the United States–to Port-au-Prince, has generated rumors regarding his appointment as minister of the interior, given that he boasts a personal profile and style that is to Washington’s liking.
Heavily protected by the U.S. Army and without any apparent power, Yvon Neptune, Aristide’s former prime minister, decreed a state of emergency and the subsequent suspension of press freedom and the right to hold demonstrations. However, the anticipated reestablishment of law and order in the wake of Aristide’s departure would seem to be a long way off.
Meanwhile, a hastily assembled tripartite commission representing national and foreign political forces continues working towards its sole objective: to create the conditions for forming a new government in Haiti.
This team is to appoint an Advisory Council of up to nine members, responsible for naming a new prime minister and a government acceptable to all the factions involved, who will subsequently convene early elections. This would appear somewhat difficult in a situation in which counterposing interests predominate.
Despite all these political maneuvers in the interests of restoring what the United States has described as “a lost democracy”, observers state it would be very difficult for Phillipe–an ambitious man who has demonstrated his capacity for taking the country to the brink of chaos and a humanitarian crisis–to resign himself to a quiet retreat.
Humanitarian aid continues to arrive in devastated Haiti, whose month-long war has cost the nation a total of $300 million, the equivalent of the annual national budget.
The powers involved in Aristide’s overthrow are precisely those who supported the 1957-1987 dictatorships of the Duvaliers, a family that stole $900 million and left the Haitian people in the most appalling misery, without resources and further castigated by a blockade imposed for being unable to honor their financial commitments to creditors.
Eighty per cent of the Haitian people live in dire poverty; 45% are illiterate; life expectancy for men and women stands at 49 and 50 years, respectively. The country lacks healthcare, sanitation and educational infrastructures. The exodus to the United States is massive, as is the subsequent return of would-be emigrants, given that the industrialized nation has no interest in illiterate blacks, even as a source of cheap labor.
When Aristide won the 2001 elections, the United States believed that it would be able to reach a swift agreement with the president in order to wipe out the ever-latent threat of a mass wave of Haitian immigration–in 1991, 40,000 people left the island–without having to involve itself in economic cooperation as a contribution to the country’s reconstruction.
Certain media channels are questioning whether the Haitian people are in fact the losers waiting for a sweetened re-colonization, this time in the guise of “humanitarian interference”. Some have recalled that 200 years ago they made a Revolution and are daring to predict that many things could happen in the next few months. We can but wait and see.
LIDICE VALENZUELA writes for Granma, where this essay originally appeared.